When Paola Berrios (BS ’21) unpacked her suitcases for her first semester in the US state of Georgia in the fall of 2017, she was sure of one thing: she studied neuroscience and then pursued a career in medicine, treating women like her mother . Fight against health problems.
Though confident in which area of study she had indicated, Berrios became anxious when she thought of settling in a new town surrounded by new people. Her first major hurdle would be orientation for new students, which was a burden.
Something random happened a few minutes before her onboarding session started. Berrios was in an effortless conversation with another newcomer who instantly put her at ease. She assumed that on such a large campus she would never see that new buddy Alexi again. But after a few run-ins in the dining room of their dormitory, the two became daily lunchtime friends. Four years later, they are seniors – and best friends.
Berrios was pleasantly surprised that most of their new relationships were just as easy to maintain during their crucial academic year.
“Everyone was so acceptable and wanted to talk,” she said.
From there, with the likes of Alexi in their corner, things started to come together for Berrios.
When she was two years old, another friend sat down for an open conversation.
She said, ‘When you talk about the medical field, you really sound like you know what you are talking about. You did the job, ”Berrios recalled. “‘But when you talk about politics and law, you light up and you talk with so much passion and confidence.'”
It was all Berrios needed to hear, and the timing was spot on.
Inspired by the ever-changing political climate, she switched her neuroscientific focus to a major in psychology and a minor in political science. Then she enrolled in a career-defining course, Civil Liberties and Rights, taught by Professor Robert Howard.
“When I took this course, I realized that this is what I wanted to do and what I had to do,” she said. “It made me a lot more aware of the social progress we have made over the past 50+ years, and I was more excited to be part of the future progress. We’ve talked about a lot of lawyers and organizations that were made up of ordinary people, and I really felt like I could be a part of something one day. “
Berrios has remained close to Howard over the years. She recently shared one of her proudest moments with him – the news that she was inducted into Emory University School of Law, where she will be following the Curriculum of Public Interest next fall.
Her goal is to stand up for marginalized communities and eventually work for a non-profit organization like the American Civil Liberties Union, the Southern Poverty Law Center or UnidosUS.
“I want to stand up for those who have no voice,” said Berrios. “I come from different areas. I am Puerto Rican. My family at home is black and brown. It would be hypocritical of me to ignore my culture and not stand up for people. “
There she says her major in Psychology will come into play. Through her teaching, she has gained a better understanding of people and how they think and feel, which in her opinion will make her a better and more comprehensive lawyer.
It is fitting, given the important role their personal relationships played in finding themselves and rethinking their future.
“You shouldn’t be afraid of not finding out anything,” said Berrios. “You have time. Find your passion and the path that makes you happy.”
This is important advice she gives to prospective students as the Honors College ambassador and tour guide for the on-campus Welcome Center. And that’s what she’ll remember when she starts her next adventure with Emory.